By Heather Somers
The calendar says it’s Spring and although the weather might not feel so there are a few things we can do in our garden at this time.
Now is a great time to prune trees and shrubs. Many plants can be pruned before they break dormancy but it is important to know a few things before you begin.
Pull out your pruning tools and give them a really good clean and then sharpen them. Especially, if you weren’t able to do so last year. You can use a solution of 1 part alcohol to 9 parts water or 1 part bleach to 9 parts water to wipe down all parts of your pruners, loppers and saws. Sap or soil can be removed by soaking a small piece of steel wool in the solution and carefully rubbing this away. Rinse in warm water and dry well with a soft cloth or paper towel. If you are able, sharpen these tools with a whetstone maintaining the angle already on the blade. Pruners and loppers are easily sharpened at home, but saws are best left to the professionals. After cleaning with bleach or alcohol always oil your tools to prevent rusting. Any oil will do in a pinch but a light 3-in-1 is great.
Know when your plant blooms. Plants bloom at differing times in their yearly life cycle. Generally plants that bloom in the Spring are blooming from buds formed the year before. This is known as blooming on old wood. This includes Lilacs, Forsythia, Flowering Cherry, Flowering Almond and Flowering Crabapple. Creeping Phlox and Evergreen Candytuft are two woody perennials we see blooming early as well. Don’t prune these plants until after they’ve bloomed or you risk reducing their flowering substantially. Prune these plants shortly after they’ve bloomed for the health and vigor of the shrub. Pruning fruit bearing trees and shrubs follows a different schedule for a different outcome.
Shrubs and trees that bloom in the summer or fall are best pruned now while the leaves are not present. This lets you to see the dead, diseased, crossing and rubbing branches and allows for the best decisions on shaping. Don’t remove more than ¼ of the shrub in any one year.
Break up remaining snow drifts. Snow left in drifts on the lawn and gardens at this time of year can promote diseases. Gently rake out the drifts and spread them out to allow them to melt quickly. Try to work from a hard surface like the driveway or sidewalk to minimize compaction of the saturated soil. If you must stand on the lawn or garden place a wide board down to stand upon to spread your weight. Your yard will thank you!
Don’t be in a hurry to rake last year’s debris and leaves from your garden. Although it’s very tempting to do an early cleanup the garden is probably not ready! Unless you have a south facing bed against a wall or foundation most plants will still be dormant. Bulbs and spring ephemerals are quite capable of pushing their way up through the layers of debris-it’s what they do naturally. Soil will be saturated and most likely still frozen underneath and by uncovering the crowns of perennials you may trigger them into growth. Water and nutrients are unavailable and any new growth will suffer. Try to be patient.
Plan your new gardening year. Now is a great time to look back at last year’s pictures. The garden’s ‘bare bones’ are exposed at this time of the year. Do you need to make changes?- Where were plants crowded out? Do you remember that bare spot in August? What month did you spend the most time in your garden? Was it at its best then? Are you planning a special event this year that might involve your garden or yard? Are you feeling like the garden is just a little too much to manage anymore? All these questions will prompt you make decisions that will allow and your family get the most enjoyment possible from your surroundings.
Heather Somers worked for many years as a horticulturist and continues to share her wisdom and insight with parish members.